The Hawks’ buyout of Danny Ferry’s contract was officially announced today. The news release had a strangely headline, “Atlanta Ferry and Danny Ferry part ways.” The release begins, “The Atlanta Hawks announced today that Danny Ferry has stepped down as General Manager of the team.” Cutting through the spin: He was fired.
I understand the consternation in the fan base over this issue — a local team effectively shoving a talented general manager out the door. So I thought it would be a good time to share a few thoughts on this subject:
1. It’s not just about Ferry’s words: Let’s put aside whether you believe Ferry just read the scouting reports comments on Luol Deng or actually thought them, whether you think what he did is a fireable offense or not, whether you think he’s racist or not, whether he has long passed served his punishment and should be welcomed back to the team he built or not. This is about simple business. Tony Ressler and his partners purchased the Hawks for $730 million, a deal that becomes official Wednesday. No businessman wants to make that big of a purchase and inherit a perceived mess like the Ferry situation. It has been apparent for several weeks that Ferry’s exit would be finalized before the sale of the team closed. Ressler did not want to deal with questions at his first news conference like, “What would you say to people who still believe the Hawks are harboring a racist general manager?” Because whether you think the question is fair or not, it would be asked. The truth if, you put 1,000 people in a room, 950 might say Ferry should be brought back. The other 50 would scream. And maybe picket. If you’re Ressler, you ask yourself: Can I avoid that?
2. Ferry’s exit doesn’t mean the Hawks will collapse: This is the No. 1 concern because Ferry did a remarkable job building the team over three off-seasons and he hired coach Mike Budenholzer. But the structure, philosophy and blueprint Ferry brought with him doesn’t have to go away. Budenholzer (who will get the title of team president) and assistant general manager Wes Wilcox (who will get a new title as well) will remain in Atlanta. They know the types of players that will fit into the locker room and function in this system. Consider what the system and philosophy did for the careers of Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and others.
3. HOWEVER, Ferry’s exit doesn’t mean the Hawks will ascend. Hawks officials can speak all they want about how Budenholzer is prepared to be the team’s ultimate decision-maker. But the truth is, Ferry was the big picture guy, not Budenholzer and certainly not Wilcox. The latter are smart guys and hard workers but they didn’t make the final decisions on anything when Ferry was in charge. Budenholzer has to prove he can do that while also coaching the team.
4. Ferry’s exit won’t keep free agents away: Free agents sign with teams for several reasons: Money, head coach, money, city, money, friends on the roster, money. How often do you hear, “I signed here for the general manager”? That’s not meant to be a knock on Ferry. It’s just fact. It’s along the lines of a high school recruit saying, “I signed with Georgia because of Greg McGarity.” As long as a player gets his money and has a belief the organization is stable and moving in the right direction, he’ll sign.
5. Wilcox will be watched closely: Budenholzer was a great assistant coach in San Antonio who had to prove his worth as a head coach in Atlanta. Wilcox was a tireless worker as an assistant who will have to prove his worth as the GM. That said, he’s not the true GM — Budenholzer is. But you can believe the new owners will watch Wilcox closely to see how he operates behind the scenes without Ferry to lean on.